The phone shrilled loudly through the near empty apartment that Thursday night. Richard picked it up and mumbled something into it.
“Richard, Richard, it’s me, Jessica, I am coming back, we will be together again, just like old times!”
“Yes, Ben is a thing of the past and we can be a couple again, I will look after the apartment, buy groceries, cook, clean up – just as before. You can get the main bedroom ready for me, clear out the big wardrobe, activate my signing authority on the bank account again – won’t it be wonderful?”
“Jessica, have you gone of your rocker, after what you did to me barely a year ago, you expect me to welcome you back with open arms, and on your terms so that you can push me around again and treat me like your vassal. Forget it, divorcing you and seeing the back of you was the best thing that ever happened to me………” He put the phone down, somewhat shaken but also just a little proud of himself.
Just about ten minutes later the phone rang again – Richard picked it up apprehensively.
“Richard, please don’t hang up on me, Richard, I am in deep shit, don’t put the phone down, please, I am down to my last quarter – please Richard.”
Richard stared at the hand set for a few moments before putting it back to his ear. “Jessica, what’s the problem, what’s going on?”
“I am completely broke, I am two weeks behind on my rent, I can’t pay it and the Superintendent of the building has threatened to confiscate my stuff if I don’t pay him by Saturday night. Please Richard, I know you owe me nothing, but I have nobody else to turn to………” Richard could hear her break down in tears on the other side of the phone.
“I need to give this some thought, can you phone me at work tomorrow, at one, I should be able to talk then.”
Richard spent an uneasy night, memories of the marriage from hell played around in his head for hours, granted, she had been his wife for close on nine years, she had been pregnant three times but was never able to carry to term. But then there were the months of therapy, the group sessions and finally the support group, and from this came the idea that finally settled him; Don’t get mad – get even! Before he finally fell asleep an idea had started to formulate.
Richard had cancelled his usual Friday pub lunch with his colleagues and Jessica phoned at a few minutes after one.
“Richard? Hi, Mrs. Liebowitz down the hall kindly let me use her phone. Here is the situation, Ben left me about five weeks ago for some rich bimbo, he left me with enough money to keep me going for about three weeks, As I told you, I have to pay two weeks rent or lose my stuff, and then I still have nowhere to go. I am desperate, I tried my parents but my mother put the phone down on me because Ben caused such an upset with them that my mother said that she wants nothing more to do with me. You are my last option; I cannot see myself lasting in a shelter, please Richard!”
“How much do you need to pay off the Super.?” Jessica gave Richard the amount.
“OK, I will give you that and we can come to some arrangement over accommodation, but be warned, I am not the same person you walked out on over a year ago, I have gone through hell this past year and have suffered to the extent that I cannot just let it pass. Any arrangement we make will be entirely on my terms, if these do not suite you are free to leave whenever you choose, is that acceptable?”
Jessica hesitated a while, “You mean that you are going to take out some form of revenge on me?”
“You could call it that, I think saying that you are going to be humiliated and brought off your high horse is more to the point.”
“Richard, I have been hurt, physically hurt, humiliated, embarrassed and knocked about in the last year, I assure you that I am not the same person you remember either.”
“Jessica, I learned a long time ago that you are a chronic liar, I would rather play this out my way and see how things pan out. Remember Maggie’s Diner on Spruce Street; meet me there at ten tomorrow morning, and by the way, as a show of good faith on your part, you can bring me your pubic hair in an envelope, we will take it from there.”
Once again a short hesitation, “Yes, I remember, it is just off the Subway, I can get there. Thanks.” She rang off.
Richard arrived at Maggie’s a few minutes before ten the next morning and found a table. Jessica arrived a few minutes later, Richard would probably not have recognized her had not come to his table and sat down across from him.
“Jessica, what the hell has happened to you, you look like a scarecrow, you’re skin and bones and you hair looks like you used peroxide on it, washed it with dishwashing liquid and it looks like moths had a go at your eyebrows.”
Richard caught that instant flash of defiance in her eye – she had not changed all that much, but her demeanour changed in an instant “Ben liked my eyebrows thin and arched so I plucked them, but they are not growing back properly. My roots started showing so I tried to bleach them back to blond again – and all I had was dishwashing liquid, you know how expensive shampoo is!”
“Your hair is dark honey, so what gives?” Richard asked.
“Ben wanted me blond.” Jessica hissed as she slipped a piece of toilet tissue, which had been folded several times, across the table.
Ben took the paper and opened it carefully; inside the middle was a small pile of curly red hair, about the size of a quarter. “Is that it?”
“Yes, that is it, when Ben sold your Beemer he made me a present of a Brazilian laser treatment, minus a horizontal strip about halfway down my triangle, and there you have that.” Richard shook his head. “Oh, Ben was full of novel ideas, if he felt that I had not satisfied him sufficiently at any time, he would yank out a tuft of that hair, and you talk about pain and humiliation?”
“Coffee?” Richard asked.
“Could I have something to eat as well?”
Richard called the waitress over. “Two coffees, a waffle with maple syrup for me.” He looked at Jessica.
“Two eggs on toast, sunny side up, a double serving of bacon and some hash browns, and a waffle for me too please.”
“Haven’t you had breakfast?” Richard asked.
“No, last night I had the other half of the bagel that was left over from yesterday morning.” They ate in silence, Jessica eventually ordering a second waffle to go with her third cup of coffee.
After the waitress had cleared their table, Richard reached inside his jacket and took out an envelope. He passed it to Jessica. “Here is the money for your rent, plus money for a cab back to my apartment, and a few Dollars for the Subway fare and incidental expenses. If you decide to use this money and not return, that is OK, but then never bother to contact me again. In the envelope too, you will find a sheet of paper on which I have listed most of the things that you were adverse to, would not do or were just plain bitchy about. These are things that I plan to work out of you if you plan to stay. Study them; there is no negotiation on the items on the list. As I said, if you do not return…………”
They got up, with barely a nod, Jessica heading for the Subway and Richard, deep in thought took a slow stroll back to his apartment.
Shortly before six the door buzzer went off and Richard answered, “Richard, it’s me, can you come down and help me with my things – please?” So Jessica had returned, Richard went down to the entrance hall and opened the door. She stood on the step with two rather sorry looking suit cases, two cartons and a half filled black garbage bag.
“So this is what is left of almost half of my life after only one year, furniture, car, valuables and almost all my savings, and still you have the audacity to come back?” Richard picked up half the stuff on the step and took it up to his apartment, Jessica followed a few moments later.
“The closet in the hall is empty and you can have the spare room. There isn’t a bed in there at the moment so you will have to use the couch until I can arrange for a bed for you. I should say – make yourself at home – but I would not really mean it, so settle in as best you can and don’t expect any help from me. My room is out of bounds to you, understood?”
Jessica opened one case and the smell of dirty, musty clothing filled the room, “this stuff needs a laundry, nothing I can do with it now – can we get something to eat – please?”
Richard ordered pizza and they sat in the kitchen to eat it. “I take it you went through the list in the envelope?”
“Yes I did, not that it made much sense, but I am sure you will explain it all in great detail.” She answered sarcastically.
“Indeed, I will, it is just this type of attitude that I intend to get out of you, that is if you intend to stay. For the next month or so you will go through a series of tests and transformations, revolving around the things on the list that made you just not a nice person. You can pull out at any time and leave, if you do not carry out my instructions exactly as on the list it will be considered as a default and you will need to leave, if you persist in your aloof and demeaning attitude I will insist you leave. I have been through months of seeing shrinks, counselling and group therapy and I no longer let anybody push me around. We start Monday, there is another catch, we run it on ‘three strikes and you are out’, do you accept that?”
Jessica could see that Richard was deadly earnest in what he had said, yet she still tried to regain the upper hand. “If this little game of ‘Fear Factor’ is meant to be funny, I am not amused.”
“There is nothing funny about any of this; in fact there has been little fun around here lately. You have an appointment at Judy’s Hair salon at four on Monday to try to make you look somewhat more respectable, hair etc. Tomorrow you can do laundry, pack you stuff away and sort yourself out. Now I am tired, I will bring you some bedding and then I am turning in – good night.”
Richard got to Judy’s just after five on Monday. Jessica was just out of the dryer and Judy was combing her hair out, which was a bit darker with a more natural colour but still looked dull and lifeless.
“It is going to take weeks of treatment to get this straw back to any semblance of hair, I have washed and applied a colour rinse, followed by a deep conditioner, that is the most I can do at the moment. There will have to be a number of follow-up treatments to achieve any noticeable results, and the only real change will come when the damaged hair finally grows out,”
“Thanks Judy, we will see how we progress from here, at least it does look a bit better, you must have had to remove at least an inch or two to get it into this style.” Responded Richard. There really was not much of a style, really a very long shaggy pixie cut.
“Judy cut off a lot, and had to thin out some sections where the hair was just too brittle to do anything with, but at least I have some sort of a style now and the colour is not so embarrassing, thanks Richard.” said Jessica.
Ignoring the remark, Richard addressed Judy. ”Could you have a look at her eyebrows, get them into some respectable shape and width, at present they look like dirty smudges.”
“Decide how you would like the shape and the width to be Jessica?” Judy said as she called over her beautician, “I will leave in Denise’s hands, this is more her field.”
“I had them natural, no reshaping at all…….”
“Let’s try something more attractive, perhaps a later Sophia Loren style, or even Angelina Jolie, Something pronounced and maybe angled in the middle – tapered down on the outsides?” interrupted Richard.
Jessica was about to say something, but Richard silenced her with a look. Denise stepped back, tilted her head several times, “I am not sure that would suite her hairstyle and the shape of her face, let me try several shapes and we can decide then.”
She took a brown eyebrow pencil and drew on an eyebrow that followed Jessica’s natural brow line and then held her hand over the other eye. Jessica started to smile, but Richard said that it was too plain. Denise tried a similar shape but with more of an arch and hid the first brow. Jessica nodded but Richard shook his head – Denise removed the first brow and penciled in a brow that had the angle in it that Richard had suggested. Jessica was not too thrilled. Richard said “Getting there, perhaps a little wider on the first part and longer and more of a taper on the outside.” Denise made the changes.
“That’s it I think.” Richard said.
“It leaves some stray hairs exposed, I will have to remove them, Ok Jessica?”
Jessica was obviously not happy, but looking at Richard again, she agreed. Judy first removed her second attempt and then expertly duplicated the new brow over the other eye. She tweezed out the stray hairs on both sides and stood back for comments. Jessica again nodded reluctantly and Richard gave his approval.
Richard paid Judy and led Jessica down the road, they entered a piercing and tattoo parlour. Jessica looked around in horror. “Hi Bill, this is Jessica, we spoke about her.”
“Right, come sit, cute ears, they should take triples very nicely, do studs first and then change to rings in a few weeks, right.”
“No, go straight to the rings that we discussed.” Demanded Richard.
“Richard, I have never ever had my ears pierced, Mother would never let me……….”
“Get used to it, your ears are not all that are going to get pierced. Carry on Bill.” Bill fetched three pairs of ear rings, descending in size from two inches to one inch, a hypodermic needle, cork, surgical spirits and gloves. It took some tears and about ten minutes and Jessica sported six nicely spaced rings in her ears. Bill started to wipe surgical spirits into Jessica’s nostrils, She pulled back, partly from the smell and partly out of shock
“What are you doing?” she demanded.
“Septum Piercing, you’ll see when it done.” Said Richard, as he nodded to Bill. It was painful and Jessica’s eyes were really streaming tears now. Bill handed her a mirror and she looked at herself. She hardly glanced at the rings in her ears, the half inch ring between her nostrils is what held her attention.
“I look like a bull that needs a nose ring to be led around by.” She cried.
“Precicely.” Said Richard.
“What to you want to do next?” asked Bill.
“Lets get the piercings finished and then there are just today’s tattoos
Jessica’s eyes and mouth opened in horror, but Richard held up a finger to silence her again. Bill pulled the curtain across the cubicle and told Jessica to remove her blouse and bra, she did so very reluctantly. Within minutes she had a hypodermic needle sticking vertically through each nipple, Richard handed Bill two belly studs, one with a red stone and one with a green one. “Red left and green right.” said Richard. Bill inserted the sterilized studs through a near hysterical Jessica’s nipples as instructed.
Jessica reached for her clothes, Bill suggested that she not put the bra on for now. “Right, put your head back against the head rest and close your eyes.”
Too distraught to resist, Jessica did as she was told. She felt the skin around her eyebrows being sterilized, at least that is what the smell was that she knew by now. Then came the buzzing. She opened her eyes in fright.
“This is going to hurt a little, but you will soon get used to it, now close again and it will soon be over.” Bill told her.
It did hurt, but was not unbearable and she worked out that Bill must be outlining her eyebrows or something. It was going too fast to be a tattoo of any detailed design. “All done, good girl.” Said Bill as Jessica opened her eyes again and once more accepted the mirror. As she thought, Bill had tattooed the outline of the eyebrows that Denise had drawn for her, and she realized she was stuck with that Angelina Jolie hooked brow look for life. Richard paid Bill and confirmed an appointment for next Saturday afternoon,
“I don’t think I want to be seen out in public like this thank you.” Snapped Jessica.
“Chinese take-aways again?”
“Ok.” They got several cartons of Chinese food and returned to the apartment.
“Right, now explain what all this is about, are you trying to make me look like a freak?” shouted Jessica as they closed the apartment door.
“Keep your voice down, and the rule still applies, if you don’t like what is transpiring you are free to leave. The nose ring, you were right, I do the leading now, you follow without resistance – just symbolic but still equally applicable, as are the nipple studs. Like a ship or an aircraft, a red light on the left side and a green one on the right, just to make sure you remember what direction you are heading in. I had always wanted you to do something with your eyebrows, but you rudely refused every time. Ben messed up your eyebrows and you gave in to his demands, now you will wear your eyebrows my way.”
“What about these ridiculous earrings – six of them?” complained Jessica.
“That is to upset your mother and to punish you for never standing up to her.”
Jessica disappeared into the bathroom. She came back a little while later, wearing only the eyebrow outlines and smelling of surgical spirits from cleaning her piercings and the tattoos. “The earrings I can live with, the nipple piercings hurt like hell, but I hate this septum ring. I feel like a weirdo, I can never go out like this, what will people think. Oh yes, and what is this business about an appointment next Saturday?”
Richard shrugged, “Lots of women have all sorts of piercings, take it out if you wish, but you know the consequences. There is still some other work to be done on you, your eyebrows need to be filled in, and remember how you used to say the dolphins were useless things and you could not understand why they needed saving, something to think about over the next five days.
Richard found the apartment starting to show a woman’s touch and Jessica had been out to buy groceries. She complained about her nose ring but Richard took no notice of her gripes. No mention was made about Saturday, but after breakfast Richard gave Jessica a bottle of dark red nail polish. He told her that she was never to be without her nails painted in that colour and that after she had done her hails she was to shave off her eyebrows
She looked at him aghast. “What, shave them off completely, you mean like no eyebrows at all?”
“Yes, how do you think Bill is going to fill in those outlines, if you don’t shave them Bill will have to, the choice is yours, don’t put on any make-up and wear loose clothing.”
They arrived at Bill’s at one and he was ready for Jessica. “Piercings first I take it?”
“That’s right, as we discussed.”
“Belly first then onto the hood, please come and sit for us Jessica, and undo your blouse and pull down the zip of you jeans.” Bill said as he once again pulled his cubicle curtain closed.
Jessica opened her blouse but would not undo her zip. Richard leant over, “You agreed, no negotiations on any of the instructions you are given, now pull down that zip!” Richard nodded to Bill as Jessica slowly pulled down her zip, and laid the jean flaps aside. Bill cleaned around her belly button and before she realized it, Jessica had a needle through the top of her navel. This was quickly replaced by a pin with a leaping dolphin attached to it, a ball was screwed onto it to prevent removal.
“Please pull you panties down a bit further now, I need to get a bit more up close and personal at this stage.”
“I don’t want to.” said Jessica, as she placed her hands over the top of her panties. “What are you going to do anyway?”
“Strike one!” said Richard firmly.
Jessica slumped in the chair in resignation, her hands falling by her side.
“You are to have a vertical clitoral hood piercing, all the rage, very attractive and a bit of a turn on to boot.”
Jessica just sat as Bill slipped the top of her panty down to expose just the top of her virginal slit. He cleaned the area and with looped forceps pulled out the piece of skin to be pierced. The needle went through with no resistance and very little pain, to be replaced by a loop containing three balls linked together, and about an inch long. Like the belly pin, this was locked into place.
Jessica sat up a little in the chair and looked down at her new jewelry. Bill handed her the mirror and she studied the dolphin and then the three ball bauble.
“You know how I feel about dolphins – why Richard?”
“To make you change your mind about these fascinating creatures, soon you will not be able to stop talking about them. Ok Bill, next step”
“Right, eyebrows. This is going to hurt a bit but I will put a bit of topical anaesthetic cream on it which should deaden the pain. There is quite a bit of area to cover try to relax and it will soon be over.” Assured Bill. It did take a while and was messy too, that area of the face prone to bleeding, but it was eventually finished. “That’s done, now eyeliner, now I need for you to hold especially still and keep your eyes loosely closed all the time . I have to work very carefully now so work with me and it will go very smoothly.” It did go smoothly, Jessica was terrified that Bill would slip, so she did not move, only when Bill took a rest between eyelids. “Last part for today, lips. This time I need for you to pout slightly and hold it like that until I am finished, and you will have lovely permanent red lips, I will give you a slightly darker outline and blend to your natural lip colour towards the back and middle of your lips, give the anaesthetic a few moment to work as the lips are pretty sensitive, as you know, like all your tattoos, you will experience some swelling which should go within two days or so, just remember to apply the antiseptic ointment as instructed, and do not wear any make up for about a week. Right, here we go!”
By the time Bill was finished, it was starting to get dark outside. “See you next Saturday, same time? – supper?”
“My lips hurt and I don’t know if I can eat, or what I can eat, also I must look like a fish with my fat lips, maybe Chinese with chop sticks and drink out of straws.” Jessica replied.
After a meal at home Jessica undressed in the bathroom and studied herself. She accepted the idea of the permanent make up and had got used to her earrings, the belly ring and virginal adornment were totally novel, so would take some time to adapt to. She brushed through her hair, slipped on a bath robe and went out to Richard, letting the robe slip open, she said to Richard, “Happy?”
“You actually look pretty good, your lips look strange but still look good, seeing as you hardly ever wore lipstick, no matter how much I asked you to.”
She then held out a handful of hair, this happens every time I brush my hair, It’s breaking off in chunks. “Can we see if Judy is open tomorrow, she sometimes opens on a Sunday morning.”
Judy was open the next day, Jessica was very conscious of her still swollen lips but Judy did not react in any way. Her comments on the breaking hair were not very reassuring. The hair had been irreparably damaged and only growing it out would solve the problem. Judy mentioned that cutting the hair back to the newly grown out portion would speed up recovery.
Jessica looked shocked, “I don’t like the sounds of that; I could end up with a shaved head?”
“’fraid so, but give it some thought, discuss it, there is no hurry, it can’t get any worse except that you will be losing more dead hair every day. We could always get you a wig, I have a catalogue of some really great authentic looking wigs – up to you. Come back when you decide.” Said Judy as she ushered in a new client.
On the way to Bill’s the following Saturday they stopped in at Judy’s and asked to look at the wig catalogue. For once Jessica and Richard seemed to agree. They both liked a short bob style wig in a chestnut colour. “You know, this looks like I am about to get my head shaved, and I don’t really feel like being bald. Let’s just drop this, we have to get to Bill’s, and goodness knows what the two of you have cooked up for me today.”
“Cool it Jessica, I am not going to speak again!” Richard gave the catalogue back to Judy as Jessica walked out of the salon. “We like the short bob in chestnut, the one that looks like Catherine Zeta Jones in ‘Chicago’. Can you get us one of those please?”
“So has Jessica agreed on a clipper shave then?” asked Judy, making a note of the order.
“She will.” Said Richard, turning away.
“Hi there you two.” Said Bill, as they walked into his studio, Jessica going straight to his cubicle. “Let’s have a look at what we have done so far. Any sign of infection or discomfort on any of the piercings. Ears, belly or ………, tattoos all Ok?”
“No problem, I have applied the ointment as prescribed and all the swelling has gone down, I have actually settled down with my permanent make up but it feels strange to see myself brushing my teeth with lipstick on, or washing my face and the eyeliner staying there. What’s on today?”
“Two more piercings, tragus this time, one in each ear, studs and done with the gun. Very trendy, a bit of pain because it is through cartilage, but worth the experience, I guarantee it. Then it is on to the tattoos, and that is all, isn’t it Richard?”
“Yes, that is it from you, and a great job you have done to date, so let’s go for it!”
The tragus piercings were over very quickly, and although Jessica again did not know what to expect, she found out soon enough. Having seen mostly small rings in this position and thinking that people must be crazy to have a piercing in that little flap of the ear, she was not sure she was going to appreciate this part of her transformation. Then, in the closed off cubicle, she had to remove her blouse again and her tummy was prepared for a tattoo. She lay back with her eyes closed, letting Bill carry on with her art work – she wouldn’t be able to see anything till he was finished anyway – although she knew it was taking place around her navel.
“Ok, Left upper arm now.” Said Bill after wiping the blood and excess ink away and putting ointment on the belly tattoo.
“Let me see.” Said Jessica. Bill handed the mirror to her and she aimed it at her tummy, “Dolphins again. Two of them nose to nose and tail to tail, you sure are trying to rub it in, aren’t you Richard?”
“I told you that you would get to like them, there are more to come as well.”
Bill cleaned and prepared Jessica’s arm and started with the artwork. It was an intricate design and formed a band circling the arm near the top of the bicep, quiet high up and easily hidden by a short sleeve top. Jessica was not impressed at having another dolphin motif adorning her skin, but the design of dolphins leaping out of waves was unique and one inch band was so artistic that she accepted it without any argument, also possibly because the two tattoos had taken a long while to complete and she was near worn out from the sitting and the pain. They had an early supper at a pavement restaurant and went home to watch some TV.
The next morning Jessica appeared at breakfast with another handful of hair. “This is getting serious Richard, I don’t know what to do about it, do you think Judy will have an answer?”
“You heard what Judy said, but we can go see her one evening and let her look at the situation again.” This they did on the next Wednesday.
“Sorry Jessica, I studied the last sample you brought in, the hair is totally dead, brittle and very porous, there is absolutely nothing to be done with it. I still recommend cutting it right down to the new growth and starting from fresh. Are you a fast hair grower?”
“No, on the contrary, my hair is rather thin and takes ages to grow. I would probably take about six months to get past a pixie stage, and what do I do in the interim?” Asked Jessica, there being a note of fear in her voice.
“I have a bob styled wig in stock, you could wear that while your hair grows out. It is a good quality wig, very natural and I am sure it will suite you perfectly.” Judy assured Jessica.
“Let’s go for the cut Judy, her hair is just going to keep on breaking off and soon it will look really unsightly.” Said Richard.
“No, I do not want to be bald, wig or not, you are not going to cut off all my hair!”
“What………?” whispered Jessica.
“Judy, give her a clipper shave and we will take the wig, make it as short as you need to so that you get rid of all the damage. No sense in messing around and delaying the inevitable.”
“Come Jessica, we will use a chair at the back of the salon, and it is quite empty at the moment so there is no need to be embarrassed. When you leave here you will look absolutely marvelous, don’t cry, it is really for the best and the treatment will probably improve the quality of your hair as well.” Judy told Jessica, who was crying unashamedly now.
Richard, his hand behind Jessica’s back, guided her to the chair that Judy had indicated. Judy already had a cape in her hand and floated it around Jessica’s neck as soon as she was seated. “I can’t believe I am getting my head shaved, I am going to be bald, I am going to have a smooth shaved scalp.” Jessica buried her face in her hands, tears streaming between her fingers.
“Look at this way, you are not going to be shaved bald, I am going to give you a clipper shave which leaves quite long stubble and it will not be all that long before you see shiny healthy hair growing out. Before you know it, this will all be behind you and you will be glad that you actually did it.” Judy was trying to console the distraught woman.
“Listen Jessica, it is not such a big deal, nobody really needs to know about your hair, you will look absolutely normal in a wig. Come now, you can do this thing.” Coaxed Richard.
Jessica looked up in bewilderment, seeking assurance, and both Judy and Richard nodded in encouragement. “Can I start?” asked Judy.
Almost inaudibly Judy mumbled an agreement. Judy picked up her clippers and showed them to Richard, there was a number one guard on it. Richard shook his head and Judy removed the guard and switched them on. Jessica’s body was racked with sobs but she held her head up to receive her shearing. Placing the clippers on Jessica’s forehead she gently pushed them backwards, cutting a two inch swath to past the crown. She alternated left and right beside the first cut till Jessica had only feint stubble on the top of her head. Judy then cut the remaining hair from the bottom up to meet the shorn top, working round her head from in front of her right ear all the way around to her left sideburn. Judy rubbed her hand over Jessica’s remaining stubble, it was uniform all over, she said “There you are, all done, now that wasn’t so bad, was it?”
Jessica, still sobbing, tentatively lifted her right hand and gingerly touched her denuded head. Slowly she felt more of her head, but made no response. Judy removed the cape and led Jessica to a mirror. “No, oh no, this can’t have happened, I look like a freak.” She started crying more bitterly. Richard stood beside her, looking puzzled, “something is not right,” he mumbled.
“Too right, I am a thirty year old woman and I am bald,” thought Jessica, “anything else you want to know?”
Judy brought out the wig and placed it in Jessica’s head, straightening it and combing a few stray strands into place. Jessica wiped her eyes and did another take of her image before turning away and walking toward the door. Richard quickly paid Judy and hurried to catch up with Jessica. He caught her as they got to Bill’s Tattoo Studio door and steered her inside.
“Bill, could you make a quick change here, remove the septum ring and replace it with a nostril stud, something with a bit if glitter to it, but not too big.”
“No problem,” said Bill as he produced a tray of assorted nose studs, pointing out several he thought attractive. Richard choose one and Jessica found herself in Bill’s cubicle again. “Out with the old and in with the new, the new piercing will hurt a bit because I can’t use the gun.” Bill said as he removed the ring. A few minutes later Jessica sported a small stud about an eighth of an inch across on her left nostril, out of the corner of her eye she could see it sparkle as she moved her head, this did not bother her, she was just so relieved to be rid of that hated ring she had been wearing these past few weeks.
When they got back to the apartment Richard sat Jessica down in the lounge and said, “What Judy said was not entirely correct, your hair will not be growing back any time soon. I had planned on shaving your head completely smooth right at the beginning as the last stage of your transformation and also as your final humiliation. Now I only need to shave off all that stubble and ensure that it is kept like that.”
Jessica shook her head vehemently, “You can’t do this to me, this is pure vindictiveness, do you hate me that much?”
“Jessica, stop this nonsense right now, you have exhausted strike two and you are on very thin ice.” Richard said sternly, “you are to remain shaved smooth as long as you plan to stay here. You’ve got the wig but under it you will not have any hair at all, not even stubble, is that clear or do you wish to invoke your option to leave?”
“You’re actually going to shave my head with a razor, and I am going to be completely bald for goodness knows how long?” asked an astounded Jessica.
“Sort of, I am going to shave you head now and then you will learn to keep yourself shaved. I will get you a special wet electric razor and you can shave your head as often as you need while in the bath or in the shower.”
“If this is your attempt at kindness, it’s pretty warped, and if I had any one else to turn to I would not let you subject me to this treatment, this certainly does not endear you to me, shit…………!” She took off her blouse and wig and went and sat on the stool in the bathroom. “Get it over with!”
Richard wrapped a warm wet towel around Jessica’s head and fetched his shaving gel and razor. After a few minutes he removed the towel and massaged shaving gel into the stubble on Jessica’s head until it was covered in a rich white lather. “Hold still, I don’t want to nick you, it should be an easy task, your hair is pretty thin and only stubble now. We should have you pretty smooth and shiny in about ten minutes.” Richard was right, there was very little resistance to the razor and after two passes over the entire head Richard was able to say that he was finished. He massaged an oily moisturizer on the shaven skin and passed her her blouse, standing back to survey his handiwork. Surprisingly Jessica looked stunning, her gleaming head was perfectly round and without any blemishes, there was not even a great difference between the colour of her newly exposed scalp and her face, and because she had thin hair there was no sign of a five o’clock shadow. Her well defined eyebrows and obvious eyeliner enhanced the total look, finished off by her perfectly shaped red lips. The other adornments created and image of total femininity.
“Ready to see yourself, you were just about bald before we started and it looked untidy, now you are smooth and the effect is quite outstanding, come look.”
Jessica buttoned and tidied her blouse and apprehensively approached the mirror.” She turned her head from side to side and Richard could see that she was trying to put on an expression of anger, but it barely camouflaged a look of surprised relief. She raised a hand to touch her scalp and Richard watched the dark nailed fingers explore the white smooth skin, soon both her hands were gently messaging her scalp, momentarily forgetting that Richard was standing beside her observing her reaction, she let slip a little smile, which she dropped instantly when she sensed Richards presence again.
The next evening they bought a suitable rechargeable shaver that Jessica could use on herself, and afterwards they went to an Italian restaurant for supper. Back at home Richard brought out a half full bottle of wine and poured two glasses.
“Richard, I have been doing some serious soul searching today” she took a sip of her wine. “What I did to you, both during the period of our marriage and when I walked out on you and also the subsequent divorce was pretty awful, I can understand your need for revenge, or perhaps really more a case of closure on that part of your life. I have decided to try live with the me that you have created, if that wipes the slate clean. I also accept the change in you and will learn to respect you for what you are. Help me to become a nice person.”
She took off her wig and went over to sit next to Richard, together they studied the instructions that came with the shaver. “Pretty straight forward, do you think you can manage it?” Richard asked.
“I am sure I will, it’ll be a weird sensation, I will try it tomorrow when I have a bath, now I am ready for bed.” She said.
When Richard came home on Friday evening he found that Jessica had prepared a full meal, there were candles and wine on the table and Jessica met him wearing slacks and a tube top that showed off her tattoos and the little dolphin. She was also without her wig, her head was smooth, oiled and reflecting the light of the setting sun that came through the window. After dinner they took their wine glasses and settled down in the lounge.
“I used the shaver this afternoon, it was a cinch. It gives a perfect shave and there is no pulling or discomfort. I even used it on my eyebrows and my pubes, I have decided to keep them all shaved.” Jessica got up and sat down on the couch next to Richard. She bowed her head to him, “Feel!” Richard put down his glass and rubbed the delicate skin that was being proffered.
“It feels really smooth, you did a great job, and how do you feel about your looks?”
“I am getting used to it and it makes me feel like a real woman, I can get an almost erotic feeling if I let myself go, and to think I was a frigid prude when you married me.” Jessica said shyly. She refilled their glasses, curled her legs under her and said softly “Richard, hold me.” Richard hesitated just a moment before taking her in his arms, he felt a tear drop onto his arm and saw that she was crying softly.
“What’s the matter, are you alright?”
“Yes, just a release of tension I guess.” She replied. Richard found himself comforting her, caressing her back and then her head as she buried her face in his neck. It was a sensuous feeling, her scalp was silky and cool, not like anything he had ever felt before on a woman, and Jessica seemed to be reacting to the caresses, going limp against him. After a while Richard realized that she had fallen asleep in his arms. He left her a while, cupping her smooth scalp in his hand before he gently woke her and they went to their own bedrooms.
Weekends they would go for walks or to a cinema, or just watch TV. On one such walk she bought a book on dolphins at a pavement table, and studying the book changed her perception of these marvelous creatures, making her proud to display her affiliation to them. At home Jessica never wore her wig and Richard’s welcome usually consisted of a hug while he briefly caressed her head, which she shaved two or three times a week to keep it perfectly smooth. However their relationship never ventured further than that, neither tried to introduce a more intimate atmosphere, and so it continued for some months till one Sunday afternoon when the phone rang. Richard picked it up.
“Richard, is that you, it’s Danni, is my sister with you?”
“Yes she is, want a word with her?”
“Please, I have been racking my brains as to how to get hold of her; she seems to have fallen off the face of the earth.”
“She has been living here for a while already, here she is.” Said Richard, giving the handset to Jessica. After a short exchange of news Jessica’s face went grave and her eyes filled with tears. She thanked her sister and hung up.
“My father died this morning, he had a heart attack, it was quick, he didn’t suffer, Danni will let me know about funeral arrangements but it will probably be Wednesday or Thursday.” She told Richard, then she broke down. Richard held her while she gave vent to her grief.
Thursday afternoon saw them at the funeral, after the cemetery service the mourners returned to the church hall and then the close family collected at the house. The whole time Jessica’s mother had avoided her, barely acknowledging her at any time during the proceedings. Danni tried to be friendly but was warned off by a glare from the mother whenever she went near Richard and Jessica.
“I cannot understand what is going on with mother, I look respectable enough don’t I?” she asked Richard, “I am wearing a black dress and it covers anything she may take offence to, I have just about no make-up on, I did not even put any lip gloss on today. Danni is trying to be friendly but is afraid to venture too near, so it can’t still be about the fight that Danni and Ben had when he punched her out, hell this makes me feel so uncomfortable!”
Jessica was about to find out. As the last of the family left, Jessica’s mother cornered her daughter and attacked. “Your father is hardly cold in his coffin and you have the audacity to appear at his funeral service dressed like a tart, even call girls don’t smear themselves as full of make-up as you have done, your face look like something off a chorus line. I was too embarrassed to admit to people at the service you are my daughter. A stud in your nose, are you going through some sort of mid-life crisis or are trying to recapture your teens?” She flipped Jessica’s hair back and saw the piercings, “your ears look like a scrap merchant’s yard, you harlot, this is not the way I brought you up, you have become the devil’s child, you are no child of mine, a tramp is what you are.”
Jessica’s eyes filled with tears at the onslaught. She tried to speak but was unable to say anything.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” hissed Richard, unable to hide the venom in his voice, which was hardly more than a whisper. “We have come here to pay our last respects to her father, a man who loved and cared for his daughters in a way you never could, and hardly dared to with your harassing and belittling him continuously. Jessica had a difficult time growing up and finding an identity in the vicious environment you created, yes, I saw it early on in our marriage, and I was unable to counteract your terrible influence on her. Danni was able to hide in her gay relationships and found some escape there, but Jessica was so confused that she was unable to forge any form of normality in a relationship. She ran into in an abusive affair because you convinced her that I was not enough of a man for her, well let me tell you that we are both different people to the ones you created or remember. After this attack, I hardly think that you need worry about Jessica embarrassing you again, you have seen the last of us.”
“You have some cheek, you walk out on my daughter and now you come to her defence, I suppose you are probably responsible for the slut she has turned into, I am just happy that I have the memory of a sweet little girl, with long flowing hair blowing in the breeze, her face not smeared with make-up, a sweet innocent child.”
“Mother dear,” Jessica hissed sarcastically, “look, no make-up, this is me.” She took out a Kleenex and wiped it across her lips and then her brows. “See, it is me, nothing added, and just to shatter your image of a child with long hair in the breeze, how’s this.” Jessica peeled off her wig. “Like it? Oh, sorry I do have some paint on, look how it contrasts with my shaved head.” As she rubbed her painted nails across her smooth scalp, and look closely at my eyelashes, that is the only hair I have anywhere on my entire body. Make that your final memory of me, bye Danni, I heard about your engagement, good luck.” Jessica put her wig on again, took Richards hand and left without looking back. They heard a strange wail behind them as they strode down the short garden path.
The cab ride home was quiet, unpleasant memories plaguing them both. Neither felt like eating that night, the TV held no interest and they went to bed early. About two hours later Richard’s bedroom door opened quietly, “You awake?”
“Can’t sleep, the whole scene keeps playing itself over and over in my head; I never realized your early life had been that bad.”
Jessica sat on his bed, the light from the passage silhouetting her smooth round head and naked body through the flimsy night dress she wore. “Thank you for standing up for me this afternoon, it means so much to me, she had me near breaking point.”
In the half-light Richard saw that, as she leaned down to kiss his cheek, there were tears running down her face. “Thank you again.” She said as she started to get up.
Richard gently took her hand and said softly “Jessie……stay?”